Union-Leader Attacks Head Start Programs Hurt By Budget Cuts

Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

The New Hampshire Union-Leader whitewashed the effects of sequestration on the Head Start program, ignoring research to falsely claim the program has no measurable benefits.

In a May 4 editorial, the Union-Leader discussed the closure of two Head Start programs in New Hampshire due to budgetary constraints following sequestration. While downplaying the effects of the schools' closures, the editorial also claimed that research has showed that the program is "a well-intentioned boondoggle with no measurable lasting impact on the children it serves."

The grim ax of sequestration has swung again. The target is New Hampshire's children. Don't believe that story.

Jeanne Agri of Southern New Hampshire Services, using the same talking points as her counterparts in other Head Start programs across America, told the Union Leader that a 5 percent cut in federal funding means closure for Head Start in Hudson and Newmarket. Cuts are planned in Hampton Falls.

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Although the value of its services is not clear, Head Start has long been politically untouchable. Before the sequester, spending rose year after year even though research from liberals and conservatives showed that it is a well-intentioned boondoggle with no measurable lasting impact on the children it serves. Even with the 5 percent cut, its federal budget is higher than in Fiscal 2011. Next year, spending in New Hampshire will still be nearly $14 million.

The Head Start program has had wide ranging benefits for many American children and their parents. Studies have found that children from "high risk households" have seen substantial gains through the program, allowing them to be more prepared for kindergarten. In addition, the health benefits associated with the Head Start program have lowered mortality rates in students ages five to nine enrolled in the program, while simultaneously helping them acquire insurance, receive immunizations, and receive continuous medical and dental care.

Despite the Union-Leader's assertion, several studies have found long-term impacts on students in the Head Start program. Students who participate in the program achieve greater success in school and avoid criminal behavior. In addition, according to a study in the American Economic Journal, students were more likely to graduate from high school and attempt college:

Head Start participants are about 8.5 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school, 6 percentage points more likely to have attempted at least one year of college, 7 percentage points less likely to be idle, and 7 percentage points less likely to be in poor health.

One study even found that if an older sibling participates in the Head Start program, there are "positive spillovers" to younger siblings, "particularly with regard to criminal behavior."

The program also has a positive impact on parents of participating students. The Head Start program has identified and helped parents who were at risk of depression and encouraged parents to be more involved with their children, "both during and after the program."

While the Head Start program is a popular target for conservative media outlets, the benefits of the program are both numerous and well documented. 

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